Culture shock

Why the A-League is such a culture shock for the NPL champions

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It’s been a long time since Lachlan Barr stepped onto the hallowed turf at Coopers Stadium last Friday night.

Barr is probably the best NPL-level center in Australia. He is calm and collected on the ball and has the ability to read the play in front of him, and his aerial presence on both boxes is well known.

He had stints in Germany and England, but is best known for his stint in the South Australian NPL.

In 2021, Barr was named Adelaide City club champions, player of the year and also man of the match in City’s grand final penalty shootout win over the Adelaide Comets.

Barr capped off a great season by finishing third in the NPL SA Player of the Season Sergio Melta Award.

There has been a lot of interest in Lachlan Barr in the A-League over recent seasons – he ticks all the boxes as a centre-back – but A-League clubs have been reluctant to move for him.

Adelaide United have signed Barr on an injury replacement for the remainder of the season. It was a signing nine years in the making – Barr was a player in United’s youth team in 2013.

His performance against Sydney once again proved that the transition from the NPL to the A-League can often be a culture shock.

The normally reliable Barr struggled with his passing range – for a player who normally makes those passes with his eyes closed in the NPL, many were under or over hit.

Positioning, which is a strong point of his game, seemed to go out the window. His more experienced partner, Michael Jakobsen, spent as much time focusing on Barr’s positioning as he did on Sydney’s forwards.

While Javi Lopez bears some of the blame for Elvis Kamsoba’s first goal by not returning in position, Barr was also guilty.

Kamsoba picked up the pace and looked to set up for a shot to his left foot, which upset Barr. The Sydney winger then shifted the ball to his right foot and hit a low shot that went through the recovering Barr and past the near post of a blind Joe Gauci.

Barr was also caught out of position for the match winner hit by Bobo. Sydney was able to move the ball quickly to the top of Adelaide’s penalty area and kick the ball out to their left side, where a simple pass was played to Bobo, who couldn’t miss even despite Jakobsen’s late lunge.

Barr appeared to follow the ball and he came out of his defensive line as the ball was played to Sydney’s left. He glanced at the player he should have tagged, almost as if realizing he was several yards ahead of where he should have been.

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

It was a start to forget, and Barr will most likely return to the bench after this performance. Barr is strong enough to mentally recover from this performance, but toiling in the NPL all these years for a debut like this will hurt.

Moving from the NPL to the A-League is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Players like Andy Pengelly, Travis Major and Marco Jankovic have dominated their domestic NPL competitions for years but struggled to convince A-League clubs to sign them.

Many players who look like Ferraris in the NPL end up looking like beaten Datsuns once they start training and trying out with clubs in the A-League.

It’s a huge step in moving from a semi-professional competition to a full-time professional league. Infrastructure, training and recovery are just some of the issues NPL players struggle with.

Most of the time it’s just too far to climb no matter how talented you are.